What is a culture fit interview?
Once rare, the culture fit interview is an increasingly vital part of the new hire vetting process. This interview assesses a person’s suitability for a role based on their apparent mores and ideals, and how those line up with a company’s core values.
Not familiar with the idea of core values or how to choose them for your venture? Check out Verne Hamish’s Scaling Up.
What’s the point?
Core values are meant to guide decisions and be enforceable, meaning someone who acts in a way that goes against the values will be summarily let go. A good culture fit interview is intended to weed out those who’d get canned for value offenses down the line anyway. And of course— due diligence as to the general “I can work with you” vibe a potential new hire gives off.
Here’s an easy example:
A commonly stated core value is kindness; being kind, and acting with kindness in all situations in which one represents the company. If kindness is a declared value, then fireable offenses might include:
- Sending a nasty tweet to a competitor.
- Responding rudely to a customer.
- Being generally unkind to a vendor.
One red flag for an interviewer is how you describe previous work relationships. If you snidely deride a former employer, even jokingly, for example, you’re probably not passing that interview.
The example offenses I’ve given aren’t the end of the world, no. But if they fly in the face of a company’s stated core values, then not enforcing them points to a lack of integrity in the company’s leadership.
Flipside: if you work for a company that’s hypocritical when it comes to company values, you should probably consider an exit plan.
So how do you prepare for a culture interview?
Step 1: Do your homework
Research the company and do some fact-finding. How big are they? What’s the company’s stated mission? Are they funded or bootstrapped? What can you find out about the existing team?
Understanding the existing team structure and goals will help you understand what they want in a candidate.
After your initial reconnaissance mission— well, do you even want to work for the company?
Step 2: Prepare questions
If you’re interested in landing the job, the hiring team will be expecting you to display a reasonable level of curiosity about the company. I mean, you are interested in working there, right?
It’s the culture interview, so it won’t hurt to have some Qs prepared about things that’ll affect your employment experience.
- If you applied for a Customer Experience gig, you might be interested in the user research methods employed as well as their primary support channels.
- If you’re applying for a role at a company with a 100% distributed team, you’ll be interested in what the company offers in the way of work-life support.
Step 3: Be honest
An experienced interviewer will be able to see right through your BS stories, so be honest. Even if you BS your way through and happen to “win” the role, it probably won’t last long, and probably won’t end well.
The fact is, a culture fit interview isn’t just for the company to decide if you’re a fit. This conversation is also a time for you to determine if you even want to with that team. This interview is the perfect time to dive into what the company offers to support professional development and work-life balance.
TL;DR: There’s no mystery here
You’re not going to bat a thousand when it comes to culture fit, and that’s okay. This interim step between a traditional skill interview and getting hired helps ensure that there’s value for value happening from Day 1.
- Do I want to be associated with this company and their products?
- Are these values in line with my ideals?
- Is the value for value compelling enough for me to commit myself to this role?
If you’ve got a culture interview or two lined up, I strongly suggest you choose to view the experience as a chance to interview and assess the company. Look to measure the suitability of the company’s role in your career path and desired work-life balance. Good luck!
Final thoughts: Going over the draft sitting in my Google Drive, I realized that since I wrote the first pass of this article, my views on screening for culture fit have shifted. I find the culture fit interview to be problematic in practice because of the gray area between one’s apparent approach to work and their personality. I mean, unless someone’s straight-up ridiculous, how can you possibly expect to have a solid understanding of how they’ll work once hired? And because culture fit and personality are so often intertwined, there’s an inherent conflict of interest created for the interviewer. At the end of it all, did they assess the person’s suitability for the job, or how much they personally like them, despite their merit? This particular interview is way too subjective to be, in most cases, fair. Hard to tell, and again, problematic.